HEPATIC ENCEPHALOPATHY

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1 HEPATIC ENCEPHALOPATHY Jan Albrecht Department of Neurotoxicology, Medical Research Centre, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland Brussels, July 14, 2009

2 DEFINITIONS: - HEPATIC ENCEPHALOPATHY (HE) is a complex neuropsychiatric disorder that results from impaired liver function, i.e. impaired clearance from blood of toxins (ammonia), which eventually enter the brain. - HEPATIC RETINOPATHY (HR) a manifestation of HE in the retina of the eye.

3 HE classified according to causes Type A: HE due to acute liver failure (ALF) resulting from inflammatory and/or necrotic liver disease of rapid onset. Type B: HE resulting from portacaval shunting, a treatment for high blood pressure in the liver. Type C: HE associated with chronic liver failure (liver cirrhosis). Type A upon C (or acute upon chronic ), reflecting rapid deterioration imposed on chronic balanced condition. Type C is the most frequent form of HE

4 COMMON CAUSES OF HEPATIC CIRRHOSIS: -Alcohol abuse (60 to 70 percent) -Chronic hepatitis B or C (10 percent) -Biliary obstruction (5 to 10 percent) -Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (obesity) (10 percent) - Hemochromatosis (excessive accumulation of iron) (5 to 10 percent)

5 OTHER CAUSES OF HEPATIC CIRRHOSIS: -Drugs and toxins: (Paracetamol, Aldomet, antihypertensive; Cordarone, arhytmia; Isoniazid, against mycobacterium tuberculosis; Vitamin A, heroin, cocaine) -Genetic metabolic diseases (Wilson s disease; urea cycle defects, e.g., ornithine carbamoyltransferase deficiency) - Infections (brucellosis; congenital or tertiary syphilis)

6 STATISTICAL DATA ON CIRRHOSIS AND HE IN EU ~ are affected with liver cirrhosis, most show symptoms of HE, with average survival time ~15 years Average yearly treatment cost of 1 patient (lactulose, 1 hospitalization)~ euro (estimate from Neff et al., Transpl Proc. 38, 3552, 2006) cirrhotic patients die every year

7 DEATH RATES ASSOCIATED WITH DIFFERENT DISEASES IN EU (2006) DISEASE Cancer Ischemic heart failure Stroke Diseases of nervous system (all, incl. Alzheimer s disease) Pneumonia CHRONIC LIVER FAILURE Diabetes Car accidents Alcoholic abuse Drug dependence AIDS DEATHS/ (Eurostat;

8 GRADES (CLINICAL STAGES) OF HE Stage I Mental state Mild confusion, euphoria or depression, decreased attention, slowing of ability to perform mental tasks, untidiness, slurred speech, irritability, reversal of sleep rhythm II Drowsiness, lethargy, gross deficits in ability to perform mental tasks, obvious personality changes, inappropriate behaviour, intermittent disorientation (especially for time), lack of sphincter control III Somnolent but rousable, unable to perform mental tasks, persistent disorientation with respect to time and/or place, amnesia, occasional fits of rage, speech present but incoherent, pronounced confusion IV Coma, with (IVA) or without (IVB) response to painful stimuli Albrecht and Jones, J Neurol Sci, 170, , 1999

9 SUBCLINICAL HE (SHE; MHE) Mild cognitive, attention and motor skill deficits that escape detection with routine clinical tests and, thus, fall in the category below stage I of HE. Among cirrhotic patients : 51 62% have evidence of SHE (MHE) (US statistics; Leevy & Phillips, Dig Dis Sci (2007) 52: SHE patients suffer decreased quality of life and impaired working efficiency, and pose increased risks of motor vehicle accidents.

10 DIAGNOSIS OF SHE* Procedure Psychometric tests (NCT) PMR spectroscopy Critical flicker frequency (CFF) Blood biochemical test (a desired modality) Comments (Pitfalls) Easy to perform, but score depends upon the patient s education level and/or age, complicating statistical evaluation Sensitive and accurate, but difficult access (only in well-off Medical Centers) Patient s visual discrimination ability of red light. Easy to perform, and score independent upon the patient s education, but requires tedious standardization and specified attention of a patient good at the bedside, not for outpatients. Light at the end of the tunnel: Increased cyclic GMP recorded in blood of SHE patients (C. Montoliu et al., J Mol Med 85, , 2007) *compiled from Albrecht and Węgrzynowicz, J Mol Med 85, , 2007

11 MECHANISM(S) OF HE Extremely complex: Mostly associated with interference of ammonia with various aspects of brain metabolism, leading to imbalance of neural transmission. Primary involvement of astrocytes (the cells supporting neurons), which are the locus of ammonia metabolism. This makes impaired astrocyte-neuron interactions a key player. This mechanism is distinct from those underlying stroke or neurodegenerative diseases (AD, PD etc.), which are primarily associated with nerve cell damage.

12 SEQUENCE OF EVENTS LEADING TO DEATH IN THE ACUTE PHASE of HE (types A and A upon C): brain cell (astrocytic) swelling brain edema (mostly cytotoxic) increased intracranial pressure (ICP)

13 AVAILABLE TREATMENTS OF HE Stages I-III: Reduction of production and absorption of ammonia in the gut using non-absorbable disaccharides (lactulose) and/or nonabsorbable antibiotics (rifaxymin) Stage IV: Liver transplantation. Moderate hypothermia (cooling blankets) to depress energy consumption in the brain: employed to prevent death of acute HE patients with increased ICP before transplantation (as a bridge ) (executed in two European centers only: R. Jalan in London, F. Larsen in Copenhagen).

14 REASONS TO INTENSIFY JOINT RESEARCH ON HE IN EU HE is a significant socioeconomic burden to EU states: it affects the life quality and productivity of millions of EUcitizens. Mechanisms of HE involve extremely complex impairments of brain function which remain to be elucidated to implement effective causative treatment, and to extend symptomatic treatment beyond transplantation. Diagnosis of SHE needs further fine-tuning Improved coordination of the work of the few EU laboratories studying HE will serve well European patients and European research alike.

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